Around here, a person’s cooking skills are judged by their biscuits. They could make a Boeuf Wellington that would make the best chef swoon, but if their biscuits could be used as building material, they ‘just can’t cook’.
I remember visiting at Alona’s, and was telling them about making a batch of apple butter. Finally, Mrs. Dot cocked an eyebrow and asked, “Yeah. But can you make a good biscuit?”
It wasn’t until I presented a fresh batch to the ladies before it was deemed I was a good cook. Huh. It also didn’t hurt that I brought some of that apple butter to go with them.
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Baking Biscuits are Easier than you Think
Yes. There is an art to baking biscuits. But too many people make it harder than it is. With just a few steps, and a little bit of attention to detail, your biscuits can come out light and fluffy.
You need to use fresh ingredients. Baking soda and powder that has been in the pantry for years, and exposed to the elements will go flat. It can still be used, but biscuits just won’t rise well, if at all, if your soda and powder isn’t fresh.
That doesn’t mean you have to go buy a fresh box every time you want to make biscuits. Baking Soda and Baking Powder need to be stored in air tight containers in a cool, dry space. I buy in bulk, because I bake. A lot. I keep a small glass container in my pantry, and the rest I keep in sealed bags in the freezer.
You need to blend ingredients in order
Mix all of your dry ingredients together first. Before you add the flour, give it a little stir with a fork to break it up a bit. As far as an exact amount of flour, you do need to get close. For each cup of flour, you can level it off with a straight edge, or allow it to heap just slightly. Be careful not to add too much flour, as this will make your biscuits heavy.
Once your flour is measured and in the bowl, add your other dry ingredients. Using a fork, mix it together to incorporate it.
At this point you add your ‘binder’, which can be shortening, butter, lard, or a combination of half butter, half lard or shortening. Depending on the cook, one of these combinations are usually the ‘secret’ to the ‘best biscuits ever’. Personally, I have tried all three, and my top choice is lard. However, I also often use shortening, if I can’t get my hands on a good quality lard.
Your binder should be incorporated into the flour and mixed until the dry ingredients resemble a coarse sand, or tiny pebbles. Your goal is to break up and incorporate any large chunks of solid.
Making a Cheese Biscuit
We rarely make just a plain biscuit anymore. Our preference is to follow Aunt Dot’s tradition and make cheese biscuits. If you don’t want to add cheese, just skip this part. But if you do, now is the time to add your cheese. Using a fork, mix the cheese into the coarse dry mix until well blended.
Now, onto the next step:
A Gentle Hand
From this point forward, your goal is literally to ‘mix until blended’. The biggest downfall of biscuits is using a heavy hand, and overmixing your dough.
Make a well in the center of your dough and add your buttermilk. Using a fork, blend the buttermilk with the dry ingredients until the dough is wet. If necessary, add a drop or two more of buttermilk, and blend the excess dry ingredients, then gently mix it all together. Always use a gentle hand. Don’t beat it like you would a rug. Gently, my friend. Gently.
The purpose of a floured board when baking biscuits is more to prevent the dough from sticking, rather than to incorporate more into the dough. It is better to use more up front, than to keep having to add it. This helps to prevent the dough from being overworked.
To help maneuver your dough, I use a dough scraper. It also helps to level the flour in the measuring cup. This is one of the most indispensable items in my kitchen!
Sprinkle dough on the work surface. Place your dough in the middle of the flour. Lightly dust the top of the dough and your hands.
Gently press down on the dough, spreading it out to the desired thickness. Now, this is truly a preference. The Country Boy likes his biscuits thinner than most, so I press my dough down a bit more than necessary. In reality, you want your dough to be about 1/2″ thick. Keep in mind, they will rise more during the baking process.
Using a cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out your biscuits and place them close together to touching on an ungreased cookie sheet or in an ungreased cake pan. You need to cut your biscuits as closely together as you can, because you only get one more shot at it, and only then if you mix the scrap dough together as gently as possible.
Baking Your Biscuits
Biscuits are designed for high heat. Bake them in a preheated oven set at 425 degrees for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Biscuits are done when they have risen high and are golden brown on top. Remove them from the oven.
As tempting as it is, don’t cut into your biscuits right away. Let them rest for a few minutes.
Butter Your Biscuit
Now you are ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Slice one of those delicacies open, add a pat of butter and a spoonful of some of that homemade jam, jelly, or even a dollop of honey. Then savor every single bite!
Now that you know how to make them, let me share Aunt Dot’s Cheese Biscuit recipe!
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/3 cup Shortening
1 cup grated Cheddar Cheese
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a medium bowl, add flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Mix together with a fork. Add shortening, breaking up any large pieces, until it resembles coarse sand or tiny pebbles. Using a fork, mix in the cheese.
Make a well in the center. Add the buttermilk. Using a fork, blend the buttermilk with the dry ingredients just until blended. (You may have to add a teaspoon or so at a time, if necessary, to get a wet – but not sopping wet – batter.)
On a well-floured board, place your dough. Lightly flour the top, and press into a disk that is 1/2” thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut biscuits as closely as possible. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet or in a cake pan, with biscuits just touching.
Bake at 425 degrees for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, or until the biscuits are a golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for five minutes, if possible!
Did you try them? Make sure you share with us how they turned out! Just remember. Baking the perfect biscuit may take a little trial and error, but eventually, you will get it mastered. If you have any problems, just let me know, and I will see if I can help.
Now, go grab those hot biscuits, some butter and a little jam and congratulate yourself on a job well done!
Want to try a few more delicious recipes from the Farm Wife’s Kitchen? Check out my Cookbook!